I don't really know how to feel about the idea of Joey Barton coming to Villa. On the one hand, he's clearly a pretty good footballler. And he seems to have pretty decent taste in music, which is nice.Of course, he's also pretty clearly a prick. He might even be a racist prick. For every one person that likes him, fifty are seemingly willing to swear off their allegiance should he choose to join their club of choice. That's a bit of sticky situation seeing as how he's available on a free (at least until next week) and would be useful to the majority of clubs in the Premier League.
On a purely performance related level, the question of whether to sign Barton on a free at wages below £80,000/week would be something of a no-brainer for Villa. But of course if it were a question of pure performance, Barton wouldn't be available on a free. There's baggage there, and a fairly significant amount of it. If there wasn't, he would have moved to a bigger and more competitive club than Villa minutes after Newcastle announced his availability. The question, then, becomes this; is Barton's ability and availability worth the risk that things will go all pear-shaped?
Villa have more than a few weak spots, but there's none more glaring than the need for a tough, ball-winning midfielder to break up opposing attacks and bring some guile to the center of the pitch. That's Barton in a nutshell; he's not going to score very many goals and no one's going to confuse him for Xavi any time soon, but he's still got a great deal of value and that value is earned by doing the exact things Villa need done. Between Jean Makoun, Barry Bannan and Stephen Ireland, Villa have plenty of creators. But with Stilyan Petrov looking every bit his age and Nigel Reo-Coker perplexingly being allowed to move to Bolton for nothing, Villa have no one left to do the dirty work. Ciaran Clark has shown some promise in the role, but he's most certainly not ready for prime time just yet. Barton is a bridge player; he probably wouldn't be part of the next great (or even very good) Villa team at his age, but he fills an obvious hole and Villa are in a precarious enough position that such an addition could help sway the core of the next great Villa team that they'd be well served by a move to Birmingham.
Undoubtedly, Barton carries risk. There's a history of violence there, as well as a history of just flat out being an unpleasant man to deal with. His most recent Twitter tirades have been an embarrassment for Newcastle on the cusp of the new season. All of the extra baggage makes Barton a player that a club of Villa's current standing could lure on a free transfer, and Villa's current standing is another factor in this entire equation. Where this club is concerned, the risk attached to Barton may very well be worth taking on. With Villa's stock falling and Randy Lerner's stated goal of leading the club to Champions League football seemingly well out of reach for the foreseeable future, the best case scenario (Barton joins the squad, performs wonderfully and helps Villa salvage most of the reputation they've regained in recent years over the course of a difficult transitory period) may well outweigh the worst case scenario (Barton goes nuts, punches some dudes, is a severe but momentary distraction/embarrassment.)
To be clear, I'm far from sold that this is the best direction for Villa to pursue. With all of the chaos and upheaval surrounding the club over the past year, Joey Barton coming in and causing turmoil is probably the last thing the team needs. And it seems reasonable to say that if there was anything substantial to Barton's row with Agbonlahor three years ago the whole thing is a non-starter. But such a move would make some sense. Players as good as Joey Barton don't come along for free without a hitch and Villa might be one of the few clubs in England in a situation that justifies taking on the risk. It might not be the best way to go, but it's certainly worth giving some thought.